Quiet Rest


They have anointed his body with oil

And veiled his face like a bride.

They have laid him in Joseph’s tomb…

What bride gave you her veil to wear?

What kind of sleep steals you away?

Darkness cloaks you. You cannot hear me.

Your lips hold no last parable.

Your tongue speaks no good news.

They have taken my beloved away,

and I do not know where they have taken him.

Today is the quietest of days. Today, the Word that speaks us into being has been silenced. His cadaver has been taken down from the cross, prepared for burial, and laid in a borrowed tomb. Jesus is really dead; this is not just for show. “God is dead… And we have killed Him.”1

Today, Holy Saturday, acts as a calm caesura in the high drama of Holy Week. On this day, Jesus takes His Sabbath rest in a tomb. Each of us will one day lie quiet in our own grave, and as the God who refuses to be God without us, Jesus lies there with us. In the very same way that on earth, “He was in solidarity with the living, so, in the tomb, He is in solidarity with the dead.”2

This is a very strange thing indeed. Israel’s scriptures know nothing of any “commerce between the living God and the realm of the dead.”3 Nobody returns from death (Job 7:9; 10:21; 14:12). In death, the departed do nothing (Eccl. 9:10), they have no joy (Sir. 14:11-17), they know nothing about what happens on earth (Isaiah 63:16), and they cannot praise God (Ps. 6:6; 30:10; 115:17). 

And yet the New Testament’s descriptions of the resurrection place their emphasis on where Jesus rose from: ek nekrōn, the dead.4 According to St. Gregory Nazianzen, whatever of our human nature Jesus didn’t take into Himself, He didn’t heal.5 And, of course, we believe Christ heals every aspect of our condition! So, He may be the God who dwells in inaccessible light (I Tim. 6:16), but He is also God With Us, who accompanies us in every way—from the womb to the tomb. Yesterday, He was with us when He let the floodwaters of our sin reach over His head and overtake Him on the cross (Ps. 69:2; Is. 43:2). Today, He is with us in the grave, and He’s sunk all the way down to rock bottom—all the way down, all the way down, all the way down.

The same God who, hovering above the deep—apart from it—breathed creation into existence in Genesis has come down to be with us in the deep. The same One who spoke over the deep in the beginning has cried out from the deep as well, bringing good news to the souls he meets there (Gen. 1:2; Ps. 130:1; I Pet. 3:19-20, 4:6).

And in doing so, the God of all, the lover of mankind, has filled every conceivable crevice with His healing light. From the uttermost end of darkness, a new dawn radiates like a veritable tractor beam of fathomless light in Marianas Trench.6 Now, every one of us can stumble into a spot of sunshine—even in the valley of the shadow of death (Ps. 23:4). There’s nowhere left for us to flee to, for the Spirit englobes, by Her own greater depth, all the deep places of the world. He who is higher than heaven is also deeper than hell (Ps. 139:8).7

Having become “a dead man like any other,”8 having accompanied us in every way possible, God has finally completed his work. He can at last rest on this “blessed Sabbath” (Gen. 2:2).9

Finally, in today’s bright sorrow, we can rest too.10

This piece is a part of a syndicated series in collaboration with Yale Logos for Lent 2021. Read more at: https://www.yalelogos.com/lent-2021

The opening poem is inspired by the Kontakion of Holy Saturday, Gilgamesh’s lament for Enkidu, Song of Songs 5:6, and John 20:13.

[1] Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, trans. Walter Arnold Kaufmann (New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1974), 181.

[2] Hans Urs von Balthasar, Mysterium Paschale, trans. Aidan Nichols (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2005), 111.

[3] Ibid., 114.

[4] This phrase appears around 50 times.

[5] “Τὸ γὰρ ἀπρόσληπτον, ἀθεράπευτον,” from Critique of Apollinarianism.

[6] C. Frederick Barbee and Paul F. M. Zahl, The Collects of Thomas Cranmer, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2006), 33.

[7] Morals in Job 10:14.

[8] Proclus of Constantinople, Sermon 6, 1 (PG 65, 721).

[9] Orthodox Doxastikon, Holy Saturday Vespers. John sets up his gospel as a renewal of Genesis: “In the beginning…” (Jn. 1:1). Therefore, the goal of the narrative is—following Genesis’s pattern—to remake man in God’s image so that He can rest from His work. On Good Friday, God creates a human being: “Behold the human!” (Jn. 19:5). And so, his work is “finished” and he sleeps in the grave on the seventh day (Jn. 19:30). It seems Jesus chose to die on a Friday so that He could rest on the Sabbath and rise on the first day of a new world. Paul points in this direction as well by calling Christ the new Adam who undoes the old one’s curse (I Cor. 15:45; Rom. 5).  Search “John Behr” on YouTube, and you’ll find fantastic videos on this.

[10] In the Ladder of Divine Ascent, St. John Climacus jams two words together to make “χαρμολύπη.” Χάρμα signifies “joy,” and λύπη means “pity.” This could be translated as “sweet sorrow” or “bright sadness.”

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